Rugby World Cup plans scuppered by chaos on Thameslink line

All Blacks train at Wembley ahead of the Rugby World Cup clash in which they beat Argentina 26-16

All Blacks train at Wembley ahead of the Rugby World Cup clash in which they beat Argentina 26-16 - Credit: Debbie White

Fuming sports fans have launched a scathing attack upon Thameslink for causing major delays as they made their way to Rugby World Cup games in the capital and Brighton at the weekend.

Roger Dean, of Harpenden, was eagerly anticipating a pre-match meet-up with friends ahead of Sunday’s clash between Samoa and USA.

With kick-off scheduled for noon, he had agreed to meet at 10.30am and wisely monitored National Rail’s enquiries (NRE) train updates online.

Roger decided to get the 7.40am from Harpenden, due to arrive at Brighton at 10.15am.

He said: “It was a beautiful autumn morning and a good day lay ahead [but] problems started the moment I got to the station. A number of trains were marked on the screen as cancelled, none of which was shown on the NRE website.”

He was told to go down to The George pub to travel on a dedicated rail replacement bus to St Albans.

But, upon arriving at the city station, he said, “Surprise, surprise, the 7.40am train was cancelled due to a member of staff not turning up for work.

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“Can you believe that? Is this person aware of the effect that his or her behaviour has on the innocent public trying to have a nice day?”

He said there was “major confusion and anxiety among the many people on the platform, some of whom were going to the World Cup game. “No train arrived at all for 45 minutes and I eventually boarded a train to Brighton about 75 minutes later, and arrived just in time for the match.

“On the return journey, trains were cancelled and scheduled destinations were actually changed during journeys – an international community of rugby fans being affected, and no doubt taking their stories home.”

Roger said that as the Rugby World Cup has been well publicised, and with cities across England and in Wales hosting matches for the major international event, “we all, including Thameslink, should be showcasing the UK to the world.”

A St Albans rugby fan, who spoke anonymously, echoed Roger’s criticism after being delayed at the city station at midday on Sunday, ahead of the game between the All Blacks from New Zealand and Argentina, at Wembley Stadium.

He said: “Thameslink management cannot care about their passengers when they cancel so many trains and then run four-carriage trains on a day when they know they will be servicing international sports events. Fortunately my day got better, as the All Blacks beat Argentina 26-16.”

The man explained that there was confusion on the platform at 12.20pm, where scores of delayed commuters waited for transport on the Brighton line because of staff shortages.

When, eventually, a four-carriage train arrived, there was a rush of people attempting to cram on board an already laden train which was supposed to stop at all stations into London.

Then came a sudden announcement that the train would instead continue on to West Hampstead, and that the following fast train, due to arrive 10 minutes later, would instead stop at all stations to St Pancras.

The driver of the four-carriage-long train, annoyed at not being given clearance to proceed from the platform, then leapt out and berated a member of staff for failing to let him continue his journey.

When the next train arrived, a mum who had just arrived at the platform with several young children and pushing a pram became confused about where it was going, because information had not been updated on-screen.

After rushing towards the train, while its doors were closing, she became momentarily caught in them – with a fellow passenger rushing to help the family on board.

Thameslink spokesman Roger Perkins responded to criticism about last weekend’s delays: “I would like to sincerely apologise to our passengers for the cancellations and crowding at St Albans station on Sunday. I understand this would have been very frustrating.

“When we (Govia Thameslink Railway), took over Thameslink last year, there were not enough drivers to carry out day-to-day operations without asking drivers to work rest days.

“To address this, we have been working flat out to bring in new drivers with the biggest recruitment and training programme in the UK. On Thameslink alone we have brought in 27 qualified drivers since January with over 60 more in training. We have doubled the number of driver trainers and tripled the number of courses.”

However, Roger said, “there is no overnight fix. It takes over a year to train a driver to the high safety standards expected in the industry during which time people retire and leave for personal reasons. As a result, there continues to be a risk of cancellations, in particular during periods of high annual leave – but we are steadily addressing this.

“When things do go wrong it is essential that we give our passengers good information which is why we have installed a new system to ensure consistent messaging across our websites, station screens and recently updated app. However, when there is a last minute change to the calling pattern of a train, the screen can sometimes lag behind which is why station and on-train announcements are so important.”